ECW Weekender: Keedysville, Maryland

I’d spent the day driving and researching at three different libraries. By the time the late sunset hour approached, I needed to get out-of-doors, but I didn’t really feel like going battlefielding that evening. Then, I remembered Keedysville…

It’s a small village, north of the town of Sharpsburg and Antietam battlefield. In fact, if you don’t know the turn-off from Maryland Route 34, you just might miss the historic main street. Why is Keedysville important to Civil War history? Let us count the reasons why! (And we’ll just name a few, there are even more when you starting looking deeper at local history that goes back to the Colonial Era and developed beyond the Civil War, too.)

A Civil War Trails Sign in Keedysville

September 14, 1862 – part of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia passed through the village after the Battle of South Mountain.

September 15, 1862 – Union General George McClellan used the German Reformed Church of Keedysville as his headquarters, and units of the Army of the Potomac encamped in this area.

September 17, 1862 – Keedysville – located at an almost perfect distance from the battlefield – becomes a hospital town and supply center.

In the weeks following the Battle of Antietam, the surrounding area served as one huge field hospital for the thousands of wounded and dying. Keedysville – one of the small villages behind Union lines – became one of the important hospital hubs. The village’s structures sheltered the injured, transformed into operating rooms, and served as supply distribution points.

Keedysville’s historic buildings stand as a monument to the civilian courage in those autumn 1862 days and a reminder that war invaded the homefront and the civilians had a survival story, too. The village also represents a key part of Dr. Jonathan Letterman’s battlefield medical system which pioneered successfully during and after Antietam’s battle; Keedysville’s location offered a place of relative safety from the battle fire while still close to the fighting ground, allowing for quick ambulance transportation to established field hospitals where surgeons, their assistants, and volunteer nurses waited to implement the new system which would save so many lives.

Visiting Keedysville today feels like stepping back in time. It’s one of the small villages that has changed through the decades since the Civil War but still has historic roots and structures visible at every step. Happily, the community is aware of its history and has designed a walking tour, highlighting the old buildings along Main Street.

Download the app or view (and print) the tour notes from Pocket Sights before your next adventure. You’ll be able to stroll along the sidewalks of the street where Civil War armies marched, Letterman’s ambulances rattled, and be surrounded by the stories of the past.

Pocket Sights Tour App:

Downloadable/Printable PDF:

Keedysville is not a battlefield, but it is a remarkable village directly connected to the history of Antietam’s battle. Here, in this now quiet town, McClellan pondered his next moves, soldiers fought for their lives in bloodied field hospitals, surgeons and volunteers labored to implement a revolution for American military medicine, and the local civilians had little choice in their response to a war that shook their community. The historic buildings lining Keedysville’s Main Street point to a different kind of Civil War courage, a different story – but one that is directly linked to the cannons and troop markers on the nearby battlefield.

Looking for more Keedysville history? Check out this video created by the town to celebrate their 250th Anniversary in 2018:

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